Fall & Winter Growing Guides

Cole Crops

Many areas of the eastern seaboard as far north as Maine and all along the southern tier of states, and to as far north as southern Nebraska and Iowa, can enjoy winter gardening by using minimal protection. Inexpensive cloches and row covers can move your garden climate a full zone warmer.

CULTURE: All cole crops for winter and fall production are sown by mid-summer to allow for adequate growth prior to the onset of fall. Varieties that form a head or an edible flower, like broccoli or cauliflower, should be sown mid-May through mid-July so the seedlings are 3–4 weeks old at transplanting. Leaf types like kale can be sown through September. If direct sown, great care must be taken to see that the seedbed is kept uniformly moist to ensure quick and even germination. Please note that if cole crops are stressed by the lack of moisture or low fertility anytime during their growth, they are likely to bolt (flower) and will not produce a crop. Whether transplanting or direct sowing, the seed should be planted at a depth of 1/4 inch. About a week after the seedlings have emerged, thin down to one seedling. Fall-maturing crops should be spaced 18–24 inches apart in the garden. Because of their larger size, winter-maturing crops should be spaced 20–30 inches apart in rows 3–4 feet apart. Provide adequate water especially at emergence or transplanting, about 2 inches each week, during dry weather.

WINTER SOIL AMENDMENTS: Cole crops should be sown into well-dug, humus-rich ground with the pH between 6–7. Fall and winter crops appreciate year–round fertility management in the garden and applications of organic fertilizers and a source of calcium at planting are important. Two heaping tablespoons of our complete fertilizer (page 58) for each plant at transplant time along with 7–10 ounces of lime or bone meal per 100 square feet will help provide those nutrients. Two additional tablespoons of blood meal applied around each plant in the early spring will help bring the plant to maturity.

DISEASE: The best prevention is to use sterile starting mixes, clean outdoor beds after harvest, and rotate your crops 2 years between plantings.

INSECTS: Most insects can be screened out by using a floating row cover. Cover your plants as soon as you set them out to fight flea beetles and carrot rust fly. Spray with Pyrethrin (ZIN482) to help control flea beetles and aphids. A trap crop such as radish or mustards can keep flea beetles occupied. Cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) and imported cabbage worms (Pieris rapae) can be very damaging to cole crops. The first sign of these pests will be white moths fluttering just above the plant tops. The females land and deposit their eggs at the base of the plant, where the eggs hatch and the larva feed on the roots and leaves. At the first sign of moths, simply spray plants with bacteria Bacillus thuringienses (BT) (ZIN503). Symphylans are active in soil temperatures down to 45°F, so they can be a problem in the fall garden. Used as a worked-in green manure, the breaking down of mustard and Piper Sudan Grass could help rid your soil of symphylans and nematodes.

Cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) and imported cabbage worms (Pieris rapae) can be very damaging to cole crops. The first sign of these pests will be white moths fluttering just above the plant tops. The females land and deposit their eggs at the base of the plant, where the eggs hatch and the larva feed on the roots and leaves. At the first sign of moths, simply spray plants with bacteria Bacillus thuringienses (BT) (ZIN503). For heavy infestations, bait cabbage worms by mixing wheat bran into the above BT water solution until all water is absorbed by the bran. Add 1 tablespoon molasses. Hand sprinkle or broadcast the bran mixture in and around the base of the plants and reapply as necessary. Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and cabbage root maggots all respond to this method.

Symphylans are active in soil temperatures down to 45°F, so they can be a problem in the fall garden. Another food source for symphylans is soil fungal strands. In a healthy garden soil, placing higher carbon food sources like straw or leaves between the rows can encourage sufficient fungal food sources. Recent research suggests that frequent soil disturbances like repeated tilling and deep digging disturb the soil structure and break up fungal strands, which might actually encourage root foraging by symphylans.

Aphids can sometimes be a problem on maturing crops in the fall and winter. Control them with a hard spray of water as well as applications of Azatrol Hydro (ZIN487) or Pyrethrin (ZIN482). For best results always start control measures prior to heavy population of insects. The aphid population usually drops radically after the first frost.

SEED SPECS: Minimum germination standard: 75%. Days to maturity are calculated from date of transplant. Add 20–25 days if direct seeding. Usual seed life: 3 years.

Broccoli

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 125-175 seeds per 1/2 gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1712-24″

Brassica oleracea, Botrytis Group
In milder areas of the country such as the Pacific Northwest, broccoli can be harvested almost year-round. In colder climates where temperatures dip below 15°F, cold frames or quick hoops will protect broccoli.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Before flower buds open, cut the central head at a 45° angle. Side shoots will form from the axillary buds. Store at 34–40°F and 90–95% relative humidity.

Sprouting Broccoli

Sow from mid-April to late-June, transplant out by the end of July. Sprouting broccoli is very hardy, surviving down to 6°F. In colder climates covering with Reemay or Frost Blanket will protect plants from frost damage. Sprouting broccoli can provide an abundance of food, practically year-round. Our exclusive Year-Round Sprouting Blend provides nine full months of harvest.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Before flower buds open, cut the central head at a 45° angle. Side shoots will form from the auxillary buds. Store at 34–40°F and 90–95% relative humidity.

Brussels Sprouts

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 60-85 seeds per 1/4 gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1724″

Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera Group
Open pollinated varieties tend to form sprouts early so they are best grown for autumn and early winter meals. Post-Christmas harvests depend on hybrid varieties that form bulbs later in the year and hold up much better to cold weather. Winter varieties should stand in the garden clear until March. Even after you've consumed the last sweet sprout you can look forward to their flower shoots which are just as tasty as the sprouts themselves.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crops culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Begin picking at the bottom. The upper sprouts will continue to mature as the lower ones are harvested. Unlike earlier varieties, don't remove the leaves as they protect the plant from foul winter weather.

Cabbage

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 55-115 seeds per 1/2 gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1718-24″

Brassica oleracea, Capitata Group
Cabbages are relatively easy to grow and offer the gardener a lot of food in return for the effort. From one sowing date our varieties offer up to nine continuous months of harvest potential. Now that's food security! We offer two main types of cabbage: the crinkly-leaved savoy types and the smoother-leaved, more tightly heading ballhead types. Savoy types are incredibly hardy, and are meant for harvesting fresh and eating throughout the winter to spring. They are valued for their ability to overwinter, so sweet cabbages can be harvested March to April when vegetables are most scarce. Ballheads, both green and red, make tight heads by autumn. They can be enjoyed fresh, but were widely bred for their long-term storage ability. Pick by November or December, or before a frost below 27°F.

CULTURE: There are three distinct maturing groups of cabbages. Late summer varieties mature July-September, autumn into winter varieties mature August-December, and wrapping up the year, the overwintering to spring varieties mature in the desirable September-March time frame. All groups can be sown at the same time: May through early July. Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Leave 2-3 wrapper leaves on and pack in a crate filled with wood shavings, peat, or sawdust. Store cool, but not less than 34°F and 80–90% relative humidity.

Cauliflower

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 60-85 seeds per 1/4 gram.
1/4″See Below55-75°F5-1712-24″

Brassica oleracea, Botrytis Group
Aim for earlier plantings so plants are larger going into the fall and winter. In milder climates, cauliflower can be grown and harvested almost year-round from a single sowing date in mid-May through June. We've put together some amazing blends of the world's most winter-hardy types that will produce a constant supply of cauliflower. If you live in a harsher climate, these robust winter performers, teamed with cold frames, will give you the greatest chance of success.

CULTURE: Sow mid-May to mid-July. Because cauliflower root systems tend to be less aggressive than other cole crops, rich, humusy, well–drained soil is essential for good production. A good source of nitrogen such as blood meal is also important. One to two tablespoons around each plant in the spring provides that extra boost needed for vigorous spring growth. Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for planting instructions and growing tips.

HARVEST: When mature, the flowerets just begin to separate and appear slightly ricey. At this point the flavor is still at peak quality and the size is maximum. Store at 34–40°F and 95% relative humidity.

Collards

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 250 seeds per gram.
1/4-1/2″1-3″55-75°F5-1712-18″

Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group
Collards, which are essentially an open cabbage, are a great source of table greens for late autumn though winter. Harvest the succulent leaves as you would kale for continuous winter salads, stir-fries, and braises. Like other brassicas, when kissed by frost collards become sweeter.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crops culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Pick leaves as you want them. They will not store more than a few days in the refrigerator.

Kale

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 300 seeds per gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1712-24″

Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group
Kales are perhaps the hardiest and easiest to grow leaf greens for winter harvest. Our kale selections have a wide range of colors, flavors, and textures that will keep your salads and stir-fries interesting all winter long. Kale is high in vitamins A, C, E, and K.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for planting instructions and growing tips.

HARVEST: A light frost turns starch to sugar which brings out the sweetness. Keep picking the longer leaves, which are best to cook with, from the bottom up. Harvest smaller leaves for salads, careful to avoid picking the innermost leaves as this could damage the growing point. In April, when kale wants to go to seed, the flowers provide flavorful shoots.

Kohlrabi

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 150 seeds per 1/2 gram.
1/4″1″55-75°F5-173-8″

Brassica oleracea, Gongylodes Group
This odd member of the cabbage family was cultivated by the Romans and later became a favorite of the Germans, where it acquired its familiar name, Kohlrabi, which means cabbage turnip.

CULTURE: An excellent substitute for turnips because its above-ground location makes it virtually immune to root maggots. Fall production of Kohlrabi in fertile well-drained soil will help avoid the woody, hot taste that sometimes occurs with summer harvests. Frost hardy down to 10°F. Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for planting instructions and growing tips.

HARVEST: Sweet when very young (under 2 inches across) or kissed by frost. Some of ours have remained good until Christmas by which time they're 4–5 inches in diameter. Store at 34–40°F and 90–95% relative humidity.